By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: You mentioned that you chose UCS over other platforms. What were your evaluation criteria, and what did you learn about the different offerings available? Which vendors or solutions did you consider, and what did you learn about the competitors in that space? Why did you choose UCS?
RB: I do like that there are competitors out there in the market. I have had a lot of experience there. There are only HP blades along with the VMWare solution at our partner’s hosting facility, and it is a good platform. It is a solid platform. I know for these other platforms you can basically pay as a utility, and I was looking for utility pricing.
The one thing that the UCS environment has given us as a customer, along with the NaviSite offering, which is a partnership between them and Cisco, is basically a baseline managed service, which is what we really need because we need a 24 x 7 network operation center (NOC) and a response team as well as the patching of security. All of those are needed to run a managed service well. I am a big believer that everything should be handled by experts. As much as I can outsource, I will. In this case, I would let the experts – Cisco and NaviSite, and also the people who know how to update and deal with those systems – manage those systems. That was our basic requirement. Cisco and NaviSite were two of the only ones that I found that offered the utility pricing we were looking for. I would say their partnership is one of the main reasons why I selected that platform. The other reason why we selected them is the interface they built on their offering. It was very customized. I don’t know how in-depth everyone can get here, but I would love to show you the interface at some point.
SM: Sure, talk to me about that. I am very interested in delving deeper into this aspect.
RB: What Cisco has done is opened up the environment to users to be able to write on their APIs and create their own managed interface to manage the virtualized servers. It is basic, elegant, and powerful. What does it allow you to do? For example, I can take one of my national or state portal deployments and take care of the fact that we have firewalls and load balancers, and we have application services, Web services, and database servers.
Using these APIs, once everything is locked down, running smoothly, configured, and set up, I can copy, paste, and clone into the infrastructure immediately. That capability alone is tremendous! I mean, it takes me hours with this approach, whereas it used to take six to seven weeks to design one of these.
So that is a huge savings in time, in costs, and in the ability with this interface to monitor my systems and be able to report back to the CFO that we are going to be $2,000 under or maybe $700 over my anticipated budget. Where physical systems are involved, it would be hard for me to get that same monitoring across my systems. This is really built into this interface, so it is a powerful tool for a CTO or CIO of an organization, and it is extremely impressive.
SM: Earlier, you said that you work with more than 90 high school student information systems (SIS). Are you saying that there are 90 different student information systems in your industry?
RB: Yes. There are a lot. It is a fragmented industry where there are a lot of mom-and-pop shops. There are some student information systems that service three or four high schools; there might be others that deal with another 20–25. There are a lot of those out there. There are larger providers that have more market share and have picked up most of the percentage of the schools. But there are a lot of different ones out there. That is what makes the things we do so complex. We need to be able to import or communicate with those various SIS systems and then make sure that the data is normalized across those systems into our platform.